Exploring John’s vocabulary vs the rest of the GNT

2022-08-23 11:23:32 -0400

I’ve been considering the virtues of a NT Greek textbook oriented around reading John’s Gospel. Clyde Pharr’s Homeric Greek textbook (Pharr 1929) is built around reading Iliad, Book 1 and I think this has some really helpful features.

The main advantage is that the exercises and readings all center around a real text to be read and thus maintain a coherent storyline and set of vocabulary. This approach is skewed in that it teaches for a particular book, but in my mind the tradeoff is worth it.

That said I was wondering how the how many of the GNT lemmas one would encounter reading John. In other words, how skewed would such an approach be. So I clobbed together some code using James Tauber’s vocabulary tools1

The numbers

The table below shows some basic stats about the words and lemmas in John and the GNT.2

Words Unique lemmas Unique forms
John 15,438 999 2,571
GNT 137,554 5,461 17,566

After learning John’s lemmas a learner would know 18.29% of the GNT’s unique lemmas. Which is not so great.

The picture changes if we look at what percentage of the total words in the GNT are occurrences of the lemmas in John.

The lemmas that occur in John cover 85.82% of the total of 137,554 lemmas that occur in the GNT. That’s not too shabby.

So after reading John, assuming a learner has a perfect memory, they should be able to read 85.82% of the words they encounter in the rest of the GNT.

But what about word forms? How many of the forms of words would a reader encounter in John?

By reading John a reader would encounter 14.64% of the unique forms found in the GNT. But these forms account for 74.63% of the 137,554 forms that occur in the GNT.


By taking these two percentages of lemmas and forms vs total occurrences in the GNT, it seems that John’s Gospel has a reasonable amount of high frequency vocabulary and grammar. It seems that a learner would be in a good place after reading John’s Gospel from whence to explore the rest of the GNT, especially with the help of a reader’s edition.

To me this shows that a NT Greek textbook oriented around reading John’s Gospel would be plausible and valuable for students.


Pharr, Clyde. 1920. Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners. Boston; New York; Chicago: D. C. Heath & Co., Publishers.